On Saying Goodbye to Costa Rica (and taking a bit of PURA VIDA along with me!)

melakeJournal Notes:

Costa Rica, January til June 2015:

Havana comes home from school one day telling us about how nurses were giving shots at school. They couldn’t understand why she wanted to ask her parents for permission first.

Kenia invites 3 friends to dinner. She and her sister shower and dress, prepare the table and wait. Her friends never show up. No call. No explanation. Kenia and Havana go to bed without dinner and full of disappointment.

I cross the street in a lazy town with limited traffic and nevertheless have to bob and weave at every corner to avoid getting run over.

As I chop and cook my veggies in the common kitchen of a family run hotel, I am sandwiched between the sizzling sound and burnt smell of oil left to reheat for over 10 minutes in a crusted, frying pan, and a miniscule sink overflowing with day old, dirty dishes and leftover food.

I do my laundry for the first time in a manual washing machine as I curiously wonder how my clothes can possibly come out clean and sanitized when they are still swimming in cold, dirty water at the end of the rinse cycle and just before transferring them to another bin for their final spin.

My husband requests information at the National Bank of Costa Rica. He receives 10 different responses from 10 different employees. After over 50 trips back and forth, innumerous phone calls and the constant attempt to remain calm, he still isn’t capable of opening a simple bank account.

A Costa Rican friend is having health problems. She asks me for help with eating better and losing weight. More than happy to help a friend and looking forward to spending some time with her, I prepare a personalized diet and exercise program. I tell her to let me know when she wants to start. Even though we see each other every day, she never mentions the topic again.

The local shoemaker is also the barber. The fruit vendor is also the chiropractor. The lady at the ice cream parlor takes a snooze outside her shop during working hours. A child is allowed to bring his dog to school every day.

All these scenarios are true and each one of them has taught me something. Many are lessons on life and freedom that I have been able to accept, apply and no longer need to question. These are the ones that are travelling along with me. Others, are situations that I continue to struggle with, the ones that I still feel the need to reflect upon and question. They more invasively challenge my Absolute Truths, my upbringing, a lifetime of lessons, the things that are considered correct in my environment, all that feels familiar to me. They are more difficult to digest.

All of them are part of my never ending quest to find freedom both inside and outside of this Pura Vida, Costa Rican culture.

An essential part of my journey towards my better self and a richer existence is learning to continuously question my beliefs, values and convictions… the process has taught me over and over again that there absolutely is no Absolute Truth. Much of what I think and do has been taught to me from an itty bitty age: concepts regarding health, beauty, education, parenting, marriage, friendship, manners and etiquette, and money to name a few. Yet, it is only when I am able to truly distance myself from all that I think I know that I am truly able to examine what I actually do know and even more importantly, what I don’t; it is only when I remove myself from my upbringing, a lifetime of lessons, my environment and all that feels familiar, that I am able to truly consider what I truly want to believe and what just doesn’t fit Me anymore… this is when I am able to choose what I want to keep and develop and what I want to eliminate from my life, and this is how I grow.

Before saying, ‘This is how things are’, ‘This is how I do things’, ‘This is what I believe or who I am’, I ask myself:

Why do I believe this?  Why am I doing this?  Who do I really want to be?morpho

For most passing visitors, Costa Rica is all about sweet mangoes and howling monkeys, electric blue butterflies and lively music, breathtaking nature, opportunity for adventure and a full immersion of magnificent color. For me, a part-time inhabitant, it has been about all these things; however, it has also been so much about learning to question all those long believed Absolute Truths of mine

Costa Rica has been our second home for some time, over 10 years. It is in this tropical paradise that we have learned about many new concepts of freedom. Through the years, this Pura Vida culture has taught us about simplicity, humanity, life and much about the true Nature of things… it is the place where we have learned the most about how to slow down and enjoy the moment, allow, accept and as I said, question.

ithaca pondYet, as I am sitting here in front of a small pond in Ithaca, New York, a much more familiar-feeling place, and only several weeks distanced from our second home – the place that we literally fell in love with at first sight, I wonder:

Why did the difference in culture sometimes feel more like Culture SHOCK?

Why, at times, did we struggle with relationships, customs and all the pureness of this Pura Vida?

Why have we decided to leave it behind along with so many people, and for the moment, why have we decided not to actually make it our home?

Why did this place, a place we have referred to as Home, often feel so terribly uncomfortable and un-homey?

What have I learned and acquired, and what instead do I still want to work on…

what may I never be able to accept…

You just cannot get a straight answer in Costa Rica. It is one of those things difficult to assimilate and keep down. Costa Ricans have a tendency to say ‘yes’ even when they mean ‘no’. They aren’t liars. It really is just part of their culture however, for me, it remains a total shock. They do everything and anything to avoid confrontation. They want to be agreeable (and they are), but you just never ever know

Is it truly ok for your daughter to come to our house after school?

Do you really want to lend me that cup of sugar?

Do you mind me sitting here?

Can I open a bank account?

Time and time again I have searched for the transparency – TRANSPARENCY, my middle name. I can’t even fake a half smile when I am feeling down. And so, I continue to consider whether

this is the type of culture I truly want to live in, the type of friends I want or want my daughters to have, the type of lessons I want them to acquire?

This is one of the things I am still pondering on

It is also difficult to completely accept that schoolchildren are considered property of the government, and therefore considered theirs to protect. It is for this reason that vaccinations are administered at school without parental consent, why your chemical free children will surprise you every once in a while by giddily coming home with bright red mouths after having swallowed a small pill that is intended to demonstrate if their teeth have been sufficiently brushed (provided of course by the same people who think a healthy snack is composed of Oreo cookies, Hi-C and a Blow pop), why there is no PTA, rarely any forms to sign, and only one, 2-hour long parent-teacher meeting mostly dedicated to the setting up of the weekly snack schedule and determining how much preparing fried pastel or gelatin with fruit for the entire class will cost us parents…

Most of all, it is difficult to comprehend how none of the parents disagree with this approach, not even a single one.

I continue to remind myself that there are many children that do need to be ‘protected’ and closely looked after – even though my child is not one of them – however, this continues to be another thing that I am still not so sure about

It is difficult to remain silent about many of the Costa Rican laws – seemingly crazy and unjust – that are supposed to protect the innocent, but are too often dangerous to those trying to do a good deed. You need to watch out for what you say (don’t defend anyone, raise your voice, say a harsh word or have too much of an opinion) and who you help (don’t try to help a woman or a child in need). Anyone can accuse anyone else of just about anything, and anyone without proof can be put away. This particular one touched me in an extremely personal way (see the post Just Before I Fell in Love…).

Then again, I think about many of the laws in the other countries where I have lived and visited… different yes, but often equally crazy and unjust to the foreign or scrutinizing eye. Hmmm…

No road signs, no blinkers, no pedestrian right of way, no pooper scoopers or rules about leashes, no substitute teachers, no crossing guards, no regular school hours…they have amazing fruit and vegetables, but they hardly ever eat them, they buy $10 bags of potato chips imported from Mexico, but don’t have money to pay the rent, they drink everything with 10 spoonsful of sugar and they fry just about everything… 4 year old kids have tablets, 6 year olds have smartphones, 13 year olds already have babies, every wooden shack has a satellite dish on their rusted, tin roof… they watch America’s Next Top Model, the Kardashians and music videos on MTV… they drive big, expensive cars and are becoming slaves to our technology, our fashion, and our consumerism – blindly embracing everything that our overdeveloped culture has to offer and trading it in for their crystal clear waters, their rich vegetation, their priceless biodiversity…

Without a strong culture to protect them they are totally defenseless. They, as an entire society, are the ones that need the protection. Their tradition is quickly vanishing and their future appears dim… and this is the real reason why I just don’t know

And yet, even with all this uncertainty, despite all these unjustifiable contradictions… from a distance and after such a short period of time, there are so many things that I already do truly miss7

I miss hearing and feeling the PURA VIDA and all the slowness that goes along with it. I miss the blue skies and strong winds, the tiny bananas, the huge papayas, my favorite mint chip ice cream from Monteverde. I miss the noise of the park and the stillness of the lake, the smell of fried plantain mixed with the flowers in bloom. I miss the early morning yoga and the late night squabbles witnessed through my bedroom window. I miss the daily rainshowers and the soft, pelo de gato drops gently landing on my face… and I miss the rainbows and double rainbows that follow. I miss walking my girls to school and waiting for them to be let out.  I miss saying Buenos Dias to the corner vendor at daybreak and having a hat tipped to me from a gentleman during my daily soul stroll. I miss my friends -my acquired Costa Rican family: Jim and Alicia, Anita, Silvia, Betto, Lidja and little Armando… I painfully miss those 3 little girls (see the post Just Before I Fell in Love…).

I have said goodbye to Costa Rica, but not to the Pura Vida because despite the culture shock, it is right here that I have learned that…

there really is no need to invite friends over – to prepare a meal, a table, a house, ourselves. They come, they don’t, isn’t there always a place and enough rice and beans for everyone?….

our need for cleanliness and order is obsessive. It can be a priority, but it doesn’t have to be a first priority because life should come first. May I learn to sanitize and label that!…

our health is important, but so is feeling good about ourselves and our livesGirlfriends, there is no better place than Costa Rica to learn to eat your gallo pinto, empanadas and papas fritas with joy and a huge smile as you show off your chunky legs, your cellulite and your muffin top in your short shorts, skimpy blouses and painted on jeans with your own unique style… because these Latin lovers know how they like their ladies!…

we have degrees and busy schedules, fancy offices and high rents to pay each month. We are all about AHORITA. Sometimes their ahorita is now, sometimes it is later. They enjoy causal conversation, free time and an afternoon nap, and most of the time they’ll even get the job done right


Adios Costa Rica… missed, but not forgotten ’cause I am bringing a bit of Pura Vida right along with me… wherever I go!

besos & abrazos,

firma danni


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